"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bill - The Dancing Guitarist

Playing music has been this writer’s, “drug of choice,” since the age of nine. No high in the world (sorry, honey, not even sex) can compare with having performed well a popular song for a receptive crowd of listeners. Standing ovations are God’s way of paying you back for the fatigue of packing and moving heavy amplifiers and sound equipment, untold hours of practice, and the pain of developing and maintaining calluses on bleeding fingertips.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of music; and for the blessing of being a rock guitarist in an enormously popular band, amongst the vast array of music venues in Atlanta, Georgia, in the middle of the greatest era of popular music – the 1970’s.

“Silver Creek,” was our band’s name. Previously, we had been known as, “Andromeda,” (a name taken from a boring 1971 sci-fi movie). Whatever band member(s) came up with, “Silver Creek,” thus delivering us from our former name, should be given a Pulitzer Prize.

The nucleus of the band had been together since high school. Our first gigs were a high school talent show (which we won by performing two of the biggest tunes of the day – Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” and Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4”) and playing in the lunch room during 4th period (A, B, & C Lunch) on St. Patircks’ Day (our school was the O’Keefe “Fighting Irish”). We were one of two bands on campus, and extremely popular with our fellow students.

All bands eventually go through personnel changes. We certainly did. When the band began to get serious about our future, the practice schedule really started cranking up. With this development, both our original drummer and bass player (two brothers) decided they didn’t want to be THAT serious about playing music. The departure of these two dear friends was tough on all of us, but the remnant moved on.

One of our charter members switched from playing third guitar over to bass. He “took to” the change really well, and became a top shelf bass player in almost no time at all. He was also one of our two vocalists. When this writer listens back to tapes from those days, it is amazing to hear what “Buster” could do on a bass, and in singing rock.

Also, some of our guys happened to work with three other musicians who wanted to either start or join a band. Musician #1 was a really good drummer – skinny as a rail, with fiery red hair. “Robert” would become a real asset to our group in the years to come. Musician #2 was a vocalist who was also a songwriter, harmonica player, and the owner a decent PA system – which we badly needed at the time. “Bob” became the tender-hearted core of our band. The third musician (let’s call him “Terry”) was a highly egotistical guitarist and vocalist. Being somewhat of a, “legend in his own mind,” it soon became apparent that he viewed himself as nothing short of a clone of Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, and Elvis all rolled into one.

All three of these fellows were welcomed into the band, though there would be trouble down the road with Terry. Nonetheless, it was good to see a real band beginning to take shape.

The next hurdle was and is the most common one faced by every band that has ever struck up a tune. Where do we practice?

We had bounced around between parents’ living rooms, neighborhood garages, at least one old barn, and an apartment complex clubhouse (where some of our equipment was eventually stolen). Grrrrrrrr. We were musical gypsies searching for a place to ruin our eardrums and forge our sound. If Silver Creek was ever really going to “be”, we HAD to have a place TO “be.”

About this time, as good fortune would have it, this writer’s parents moved from one metro Atlanta County to another, and into a brick house with a basement. This house was located on what was then still somewhat of a county road, on a piece of land that was surrounded with woods on one side and open terrain on the other. It was THE perfect place for a bunch of loud, head-banger-type musicians to polish their act. Our destiny of becoming a true band was looking up.

Back to Terry, the ego-maniac. Eventually, he was asked to leave the band. Since the day he entered the group his ego had taken charge. From everything including song choices, to lead vocal and guitar duties, to equipment purchases, to what each band member would wear to gigs, to what our business cards would look like, Silver Creek was rapidly becoming “Terry’s band.” Something had to be done. Something was.

A strained, adversarial, tearful, and bitter “intervention” took place at one of our next practices. Terry’s dominance, the wisdom of some of the choices/decisions he had made for the band (without asking our opinions first), as well as a few other pertinent items were passionately discussed. Terry bristled at the idea that he had somehow become the “mac daddy” of the band. He was told that the band would henceforth be a true democracy, and that if he couldn’t live with that then we certainly wished him well. With bruised ego in hand, Terry moved on.

This kind of trouble and conflict, unfortunately, has broken up many a great band down through the history of rock and roll. Anyone who has ever been in a band (or bands) for any period of time will tell you that a group of musicians is often much more difficult to manage and keep together than a marriage. Divorce is ugly and painful - even when it “only” involves a group of guys or gals who do three chords and a chorus together on weekends.

To his credit, Terry did get us our first string of gigs. He also brought to the group a host of good cover tunes for us play. The crown jewel of these songs was a newly-released number by a then regionally-known group called Lynyrd Skynyrd. The song was, “Sweet Home Alabama.” Give the devil his due. Because of Terry’s musical foresight, we were playing “Sweet Home” (as well as a handful of other songs that eventually became hits) even before Atlanta rock radio was playing them. Kudos to you for that, Terry.

With Terry now gone, we were a band of five: two guitars, a bass, one drummer, and a vocalist (who occasionally played rhythm guitar or blues harp). Through the years a few keyboard players came and went, but we were almost always a “guitar band.” This story is about one of the guitar players. We knew him as, “Bill.”

In the 1970’s, with rock music becoming almost an obsession among baby boomers, and with it growing progressively harder-edged all the time, places for live performers and bands to play multiplied like fleas on a collie. Clubs, bars, singles apartment clubhouse parties, fraternity and sorority parties, corporate outings, private parties, restaurants and “lounges,” county fairs, small concert halls, outdoor sports venues, grand openings for new businesses, high school dances and pep rallies, and a hundred other venue types were constantly needing rock and roll bands. The work was steady and the money was decent. Silver Creek had found its place. We were a working band, and loving every rock and roll minute of it.

One of our favorite places to play was a restaurant/bar in a small town just west of Atlanta. “Effie’s Kitchen” had benefited substantially from the growth of Atlanta. The metropolis that Atlanta was destined to become was almost daily reaching farther and farther into places like the west metro county where Effie’s was located. Liquor by the drink, dancing, and loud rock and roll was packing them in. In some places, there was a rock and roll band playing five to six nights a week.

Silver Creek was given a tryout at Effie’s when their regular cover band had a conflict on a Saturday night booking. We were promised that if we did well, there could be a chance for a week-long gig in this little place. That Saturday afternoon we loaded up the gear and headed for what would become a great launching-pad for our career as a cover band.

The largest crowd ever at Effie’s showed up that night to hear our little five piece group. The time was “right,” the crowd was “ripe,” and Silver Creek was rocking. After four hours of almost non-stop cover tunes from Aerosmith, Grand Funk Railroad, Bad Company, ZZ Top, BTO, The Stones, and scores of others, the crowd refused to go home. The spirits were flowing, the music was hot, and the money was rolling in.

When the night was over, the club owner told us we were THE best bar band he had ever heard. We were immediately booked for an entire month, which was longer than Effie’s had ever held a group over. Our time had finally come. We could quit our day jobs.

Effie’s Kitchen, like any other club or lounge, attracted all types of people. Long hairs, rednecks, hippies, geeks, bikers, blue collar and white collar, black and white, male and female. They all came for different reasons, but, certainly, each was there because of rock and roll.

At the risk of overlooking anyone from the preceding collage of faces, bodies, and hearts - and for the sake of brevity - let us focus on perhaps THE most “important” segment of patrons that frequented Effie’s, or any establishment where there was/is dancing, loud rock and roll, and booze. I am speaking, of course, of women.

Women, women and more women. They came in the door like cattle at a county fair auction. Blondes, brunettes, red-heads, tall, round, thin, big-chested, flat-chested, bone-hard ugly, drop-dead gorgeous, some of legal age, and some not. One by one these precious creatures appeared. And, all with one thing in common: they were searching for a good time and for Mr. Right (or, as the country song says, Mr. Right Now!). Too, anyone who has ever followed rock and roll knows a second universal truth about women who show up at clubs, concerts, and most other places where music is to be played. That is, women L-O-V-E the boys in the band! One of THE sweetest places on earth for a musician to be is onstage performing before an adoring crowd of females.

One of the “boys” in our band was “Bill.” He was our second guitarist and sang harmony vocal. Bill was an excellent musician, who could also repair amplifiers and pretty much all things electronic with both hands tied behind him. However, he was as “a-typical” a rock guitarist and performer as there has ever been in the world.

By nature, Bill was a scientist, a borderline egghead, and a scholar. He won every award for science achievement our high school ever doled out. Blindfolded, Bill could take apart a guitar, an amplifier, or even a nuclear power plant and put it all back together in perfect order. He also had an ear for THE song that the crowd was sure to love. Bill was, in many ways, the backbone of our band.

There were two things, though, that Bill was NOT.

First, he was not a dancer by any means. If Bill had starred in “Saturday Night Fever,” the Bee Gees might never have gotten beyond singing for weddings and funerals. Bill rarely if ever moved while onstage. During a four hour gig, he would stand statuesquely in the same place, never moving unless it was a step or two toward the microphone to sing a harmony vocal. His guitar work was impeccable and he capably sang many a harmony line. But, beyond this, Bill’s onstage and real life persona were never going to get him confused with Tom Jones or Elvis.

Second, Bill was not a ladies man. He was in many ways a terribly shy person, and quiet as a whisper in a crowd. It was not that Bill didn’t like girls. And, it was not that he was at a loss for knowing what SHOULD be done whenever a room suddenly filled with a bevy of scantily clad females. Bill was just not the type to openly cavort and carouse. He occasionally confessed a minor crush of sorts for a sister of one of our band mates, but was not about to go off chasing the first pretty pair of jeans that walked by during one of our gigs. (That particular duty fell to this writer, and was a cross he bore repeatedly throughout Silver Creek’s days as a band.)

One particular Saturday night, Effie’s Kitchen was “hopping.” Silver Creek was loud and in fine form. The beer and booze were flowing. The crowd was steadily becoming liquored up, and quickly gravitating toward full party mode. The dance floor was filled on every song. And, as always, women – hot, incredibly good looking women – were everywhere. What a great time to be young, a guitar player, and part of a really, really good rock band. Ahhhhhh, the sweet memories.

At some point during the show, the dance floor emptied enough for one young lady to stand out. And, boy did she ever stand out! She was a strawberry blonde in her early twenties, the possessor of a beautiful face, and an even better physique. She was wearing stacked heels, tight jeans, and the prettiest orange chiffon, 100% cotton, tube top that K-Mart ever sold. That top was perfectly positioned in the one area of this pretty young thing’s upper body that most every guy in that place wanted to be. No one but her and Good Lord knew that the top she wore into Effie’s that night would not be in that position very much longer.

The song that seemed to light this young thing’s fire was ZZ Top’s great dual hit, “Waitin’ On The Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago.” Her boyfriend had stayed with her on the dance floor through, “Waiting On The Bus,” but retreated to his seat for the second part of the medley. “Jesus Just Left Chicago” was a slow, bluesy type number, with a steady, pulsating bass line. It was THE perfect song for a lead guitarist to show his chops; and, for a pretty young thing in an orange tube top to show hers as well.

We were right in the middle of the guitar solo when the action began. The doll-baby all alone now on the dance floor must have known that every guy in the place was watching her (and every girl, but for different reasons). Slowly, sensuously, and graphically our young mistress began to disrobe. Keep in mind that she was already only half-clothed from the waist up to begin with. One gentle tug after another at that orange top was gradually bringing it ever closer to her navel. And, not a bouncer in sight (a “bouncer” is big male brute who removes rowdy folks from dance floors – not the “OTHER” variety of “bouncer” which had a partner bouncing with it on this girl’s upper torso).

Never has the male portion of any audience we ever played for made that much noise. Every male in Effie’s that special Saturday night was euphorically caught up in ecstatic approval of what they were witnessing!

Being the serious guitarist that this writer was, he was totally and absolutely focused on the solo he was playing, and thoroughly oblivious to the show that was taking center stage right in front of him. Sad to say, but he thought the audience was cheering for him!

Suddenly, I heard Robert, our drummer, screaming at me. “Hey, dude! – D-A-V-I-D!!! – Look, man! – Look at…BILL!” I opened my eyes and saw the eye-popping mammarial display only a few feet away. She was obviously “digging” the solo I was playing. The better I played, the more vigorously she moved that body and that top to places one would have never imagined.

At that point, in my own mind and field of view it was, “Bill W-H-O?”

Robert yelled again, “Man! - Not her!! – Look at BILL!” Being the stalwart drummer he was, Robert was attempting to continue the beat of the song while gesturing wildly toward the opposite end of the stage with one of his drumsticks.

This guitar player was finally able to tear himself away from the unbelievable sight unfolding (or undressing) before his young eyes, and look in the direction that Robert was pointing. What he saw was almost as unbelievable – and a thousand times more entertaining!

Bill was D-A-N-C-I-N-G!!!!

Bill - the science freak, egghead, intellectual, solitary, “stationary” man – was hopelessly overcome with the sensuous, fleshly display he was witnessing. Bill, my buddy and fellow guitarist, was smiling, laughing, moving around, smiling, swaying, grinning, leaning back and forth, shaking his head in approval, and doing something akin to the “bump!”

This stoic, unmovable, lug that stood like the Rock of Gibraltar on the other end of the stage from me, never changing his position or his countenance, was going absolutely rock and roll crazy!!! He was dancing around like Buster Poindexter did when he performed, “Hot, Hot, Hot!,” in his Vegas show. That little stage at Effie’s rocked and rumbled each time Bill would gyrate back and forth and side to side. As the Motown hit says, the earth was truly moving under his feet.

Soon, the bouncers came and got little Miss Orange Chiffon Tube Top(less) and gingerly escorted her off the dance floor. We didn’t see her again the rest of the evening. But, no matter - the deed was done – the transformation complete!! Silver Creek now knew what made our rhythm guitarist “tick” – not to mention jump, shout, shake, rattle, and roll.

Bill never stood still again. From that night until our band took its current thirty year hiatus, Bill enjoyed every minute of every show. He moved around onstage like the late Billy Preston, flirted with the girls in the front row, and became one of THE greatest memories this guitar player still has from the days of rock and roll, and a band called Silver Creek.

Thank you, Bill.

Rock on, brother.

- David Decker